RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The online superstore Amazon got its start selling books, and it's been publishing books for a long time, as well - romance, mystery, young adult. Up until now, though, it hadn't had its fingers in one of the biggest slices of the publishing pie - Christian books. That changed this past week.
To get a sense of just how big this particular market is, we've reached Win Bassett. He's a writer and a seminarian at the Yale Divinity School. Thanks so much for being with us.
WIN BASSETT: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MARTIN: So clearly, Amazon must see this as a good business - getting into Christian publishing. How big is this market exactly?
BASSETT: As of March 2013, the revenue of this business, and specifically Christian books, was $1.4 billion. It's a large industry and all the big six publishing houses have their own Christian imprints. So I guess Amazon thought that it's about time that they get in the game, too.
MARTIN: Amazon already publishes spiritual books but that is different than Christian books, right? Can you explain the difference?
BASSETT: That's right. Amazon already has one imprint called Grand Harbor Press. And this imprint publishes self-help and spiritual books only. This new one that they announced last Thursday is going to be called Waterfall Press. And they specifically said they'll be publishing Christian fiction and nonfiction.
And you asked what's the difference between spiritual books and Christian books. The word spiritual encompasses not only all religions but also non-religions. Religion has connotations of perhaps doctrines and dogma, where spirituality does not. Spirituality can encompass anything from worshiping on Sundays to doing yoga on a Wednesday afternoon.
MARTIN: And Christian books, as I understand it, what's really big is Christian fiction.
BASSETT: That's right. Waterfall Press said they'd be publishing Christian nonfiction and fiction. But fiction specifically has been taking off. Up until now, to find Christian fiction, you really have to go into the Christian bookstores. You're not likely to find a lot of Christian fiction in large brick-and-mortar stores like Barnes and Noble's, for example.
And Amazon already has a lot of Christian fiction books for sale, but now they'll be publishing their own. And it's, like I said, it's a popular industry right now, especially among the evangelical line.
MARTIN: I would just love if you could describe what Christian fiction means. How prevalent is a religious element in the storyline?
BASSETT: Christian fiction, to use an example that a lot of people might recognize, would be Flannery O'Connor, which one of the big publishing houses - or one of their imprints, Farrar Straus Giroux, published her prayer journal recently; it's done very well. So her short stories back in the mid-1900s were all Christian fiction. They did not whisper at all.
There was evidence of priests and sacraments and taking the Eucharist, and they were very expressly Christian, as opposed to fiction without express Christian overtones, who don't talk about church but they still might display morals or ethics that you might find along Christian thinking.
MARTIN: Is it easier to sell Christian books that don't emphasize religion?
BASSETT: For mainstream and secular audiences, I think from my experience they do well when they don't have a description Christian on them, 'cause that brings a lot of meaning and connotations to that type of work. But within these independent Christian bookstores, or these independent Christian publishers and imprints, the people buying these books would like to see the word Christian on there. And I think that causes them to do extremely well.
MARTIN: Win Bassett, he is a seminarian Yale Divinity School who follows the religious publishing industry. Thanks so much for talking with us, Win.
BASSETT: Thank you, Rachel.